How I Got Stranded in Frankfurt

I will generally defend Air Canada. I know this makes me an awful Western Canadian, where hating Air Canada’s a virtual civic duty, but it’s a perfectly adequate airline, it’s part of an extensive network of global carriers, and it doesn’t use “our flight attendants tell jokes!” as a marketing tool.

But I can’t defend what happened to me in Frankfurt last week.

A lot of you saw the Faces of Steve Facebook posts from Frankfurt, Dubai, and an airplane in between the two. Here’s how they came about. My initial flight from Toronto to Frankfurt turned around inside an hour due to a mechanical failure. I will never complain about a flight being aborted for safety reasons: sure, it sucks, but I’d much rather it suck and be safely on the ground than, say, on board a plane whose flaps couldn’t fully extend (which, as it turns out, was the issue). Stuff happens, y’know? Every single flight is a miracle; it’s a wonder more flights aren’t affected by in-air mechanical difficulties. The real problems began in Frankfurt. I’d been seated in 34C – the 34 was deliberate – and was therefore one of the last people off the plane. Those of us with connecting flights were then shepherded to the Air Canada desk, where we were forced to wait up to three hours for information. We had no access to food or drink, or even to water: we were still technically “plane-side.” In Toronto, where some of the airport’s restaurants were still open when our initial flight returned, Air Canada plied us with free food and drink at the departure gate. In Frankfurt I ate a handful of almonds I’d packed in my carry-on.

And so we waited. It took me three hours to get my new itinerary, which had me flying to Dubai by way of Rome (and on an Emirates A380, which was a major win). The agent then scribbled the name of a hotel, the InterCity, on the back of my boarding pass. It took fifteen minutes for my luggage to re-appear; it took almost an hour for the hotel’s shuttle bus to show up and then another fifteen minutes to actually arrive at the InterCity Hotel. At this point I was delirious, but I was also nearing the end of the line.

And then…and then I got to the reception desk and was informed there weren’t any rooms left.

Wait a second: what?

I asked the desk clerk to repeat herself. Turns out Air Canada hadn’t set aside enough rooms for us, and so those of us who were late getting to the hotel were literally turned away. When we asked what we should do, the hotel suggested going back to the airport. The shuttle would leave again in 45 minutes. And would cost €7.

And so I took a deep breath and began making contingency plans. The Sheraton at Frankfurt airport was available – for a cool €391. But the Holiday Inn Frankfurt Airport – North was both available and affordable. The cab ride over cost almost €25; my meal, a surprisingly edible bar pizza, cost another €12 (it later doubled as a surprisingly edible breakfast). I’ll be sending the receipts, along with the cost of the accommodation and the shuttle back to Frankfurt airport the following morning, to Air Canada.

Again, I get it: stuff happens. But last week’s misadventure weren’t a consequence of the technical difficulties that led to the initial delay. Rather, they were the result of gross incompetence by, and apparent indifference from, Air Canada’s Frankfurt staff, who seemed to view us as an inconvenience and who made such basic screw-ups that some of us were literally turned away by the airline’s hotel. Sam lodged a complaint on my behalf, quite literally, while I was in line at Frankfurt. I’ll be following suit if (when?) I’m denied Altitude points because Air Canada rebooked me on non-Star Alliance carriers. No matter what, though, it’s a lot harder for me to defend Air Canada than it was this time last week.